About Time is a romantic comedy about time travel that, appropriately, hails from the land that gave birth to H.G. Wells, author of this genre’s trendsetting 1895 sci fi classic The Time Machine. However, in the Britain-set About Time time travel is not like Rod Serling’s 1958 pilot for The Twilight Zone, wherein William Bendix goes back in time to Hawaii on December 7, 1941, and frantically tries to warn everybody about the impending Imperial Japanese sneak attack. So in About Time don’t expect Tim Lake (the bland Irish actor Domnhall Gleeson — no Jackie he) to hop into a wayback machine and go to Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963 to raise red flags about the Texas Book Depository Building (or, for that matter, the grassy knoll) before JFK’s motorcade rolls through Dallas.
No, as Dad (Bill Nighy, one of the two best things about this flick), informs Tim when his son comes of age, the male members of the Lake family possess the ability to travel through time, and this power can only be used for strictly personal reasons. (As well as in only one direction: Backwards. No sneak peeks at the future!)
The limitation about the uses of this gift to solely private purposes speaks volumes about the ideology behind this comedy that takes place in ye contemporary merry olde England. Tim is a flop with chicks since 2006 — until his love potion in the form of time travel helps him to get his mojo to woo and win Mary (Rachel MacAdams). They discover true love and live happily ever after in prosperous Britain, creating a family in the mold of the happy Lake household Tim grew up in, in an ample, affluent house perched upon a cliff above the sea at Cornwall (as in corny).
New Zealander Richard Curtis wrote and directed About Time, as he did 2003’s Love Actually and 2009’s Pirate Radio, which are both set in (or near the territorial waters of) Great Britain, with the droll Nighy in their casts. About Time’s British panache is one of the best things about this romcom, which has that sly Brit wit. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the casting of MacAdams, who, according to IMDB.com, replaced Zooey Deschanel. For some reason (probably to appeal to American auds — and bucks?) Lake’s lady love is a Yank, and MacAdams’ presence (she’s actually Canadian) undermines the overall British-ness of this otherwise veddy English movie. The 35 year old MacAdams is also too old for the role — and before I’m flamed for being sexist or age-ist, this is because her character for much of the movie is meant to be a decade or so younger than the actress actually is, and it shows. (Especially apropos for a movie about time!) However, to be fair, once her character ages MacAdams fits the part, although she’s not a particularly compelling actress. Sort of like this film itself, she’s reasonably talented and attractive — but no beauty. And, once again, in her nude scene her body parts aren’t revealed — a Hollywood specialty.
Gleeson has almost no screen presence at all — his acting is okay but this nebbish is almost transparent. On the other hand another especially good thing about this somewhat charming romcom is Bill Nighy, who is witty and winning throughout. He makes a great father, especially as he strives to overcome his stereotypical British reserve in reaching out to Tim and has some touching father-son moments with his lad, as well as with his daughter, the wacky, off-kilter Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson).
As this is an English production, an eccentric character is required, and Richard Cordery comically plays the easily distracted, daft Desmond, Tim’s lovable if out-to-lunch uncle. Those U.K. stalwarts, the Richards Grant (1997’s A Merry War, adopted from a George Orwell novel) and Griffiths have delicious cameos as thespians performing in a play written by Harry (Tom Hollander, who apparently has a literary streak, as he depicts Dylan Thomas in his next outing, the 2014 TV movie A Poet in New York). About Time was the final act for the redoubtable Richard Griffiths, who’d co-starred in 2006’s The History Boys and played Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter pix, as Griffiths died last march. During his rib tickling sequence with Grant that takes place on a presumably West End stage the movie’s time travel plotline works especially well and with humorous effect.
For a movie about, well, time, About Time overstays its welcome and becomes a bit too serious at the end as, uh, time catches up with the characters. Overall it provides an affable, enjoyable ride, but its portrayal of an England where every one of the dramatis personae appears to be comfortably upper middle class does not ring true. The U.K. that erupted in fierce riots not long ago, the ongoing austerity of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory government — none of these realities make even a special guest appearance onscreen. About Time’s depiction of a well-to-do England is about as realistic as, say, traveling through time. H.G. Wells, the socialist, would have had trouble believing his eyes.